WWE Free-for-All Awaits If Found Sets Sale: Real M&A

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WWE Free-for-All Awaits If Found Sets Sale: Real M&A

Posted on: March 17th, 2014 by tommyj

Click here to view original web page at www.bloomberg.com

To spark a bidding contest for
World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE), all Vince McMahon needs to
do is wave a “for sale” sign.

McMahon, 68, controls the voting power of the $2.3 billion
company that’s been entertaining spectators with staged fights
for decades. The stock is at a record after WWE launched its own
subscription streaming network and became the subject of
takeover speculation. Should McMahon ever decide he’s ready to
sell, companies from Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) to Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG)
may line up with offers, Albert Fried & Co. and National
Alliance Capital Markets said.

“What is McMahon’s succession plan and who will he pass
the keys of the kingdom to?” Robert Routh, an analyst at
National Alliance, said in a phone interview. “WWE would be
very attractive to many different types of buyers. What they’ve
built can’t be recreated. But without McMahon’s blessing, it
doesn’t matter how much somebody is willing to pay for the
company.”

The franchise that thrust Hulk Hogan and The Rock into
stardom owns the television shows “Raw” and “Smackdown,”
which have a dedicated following and command high cable-TV
ratings, Vertical Group said. The company, which is hosting its
annual WrestleMania event in three weeks, will post its best
revenue and profit growth in more than a decade next year,
according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.




Photographer: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman Vince McMahon attends a press conference to announce that WWE Wrestlemania 29 will be held at MetLife Stadium in 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 16, 2012. Close

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Photographer: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman Vince McMahon attends a press conference to announce that WWE Wrestlemania 29 will be held at MetLife Stadium in 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 16, 2012.

Stock Surge

The stock has climbed 35 percent this month, in part
because of takeover speculation, to close at $30.94 last week.
WWE isn’t in merger talks, Chief Financial Officer George Barrios said in an interview March 6. A representative for the
Stamford, Connecticut-based company, declined to comment last
week beyond Barrios’ earlier statement.

WWE’s programs, which air on Comcast’s USA and SyFy cable
networks, may find a new home by the end of April, Barrios said.
He said the company is in discussions on future domestic TV
distribution with “multiple parties.”

It has held distribution talks with companies such as AMC
Networks Inc. (AMCX)
, though a renewal with Comcast’s NBCUniversal is
also possible, people with knowledge of the situation said.

McMahon controls WWE through Class B shares that have added
voting rights. His daughter Stephanie McMahon Levesque is the
company’s chief brand officer, and her husband, pro-wrestler
Paul “Triple H” Levesque, is executive vice president for
talent and live events. McMahon’s wife Linda McMahon helped
found the company and has since mounted failed bids to win a
U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut. Their son Shane McMahon is
chairman of publicly traded You On Demand Holdings Inc., which
streams movies in China.




Shane McMahon is chairman of publicly traded You On Demand Holdings Inc., which streams movies in China. Close

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Photographer: Rob Loud/Getty Images

Shane McMahon is chairman of publicly traded You On Demand Holdings Inc., which streams movies in China.

Men account for two-thirds of WWE’s audience, which
consistently tops 4 million viewers on Monday nights on USA,
according to Nielsen data compiled by Horizon Media Inc. In the
week ended March 9, WWE’s “Raw” was the third most-watched
cable show, trailing only “The Walking Dead” and “Duck
Dynasty,” the data show.

“These are pretty strong numbers for cable,” Brad Adgate,
director of research at Horizon Media, said in a phone
interview. For advertisers, “it’s a great target for young
males.”

WWE’s library of characters, story lines and hours of
footage can’t be easily replicated, which is why it could lure
buyers, said Routh of National Alliance.

To persuade McMahon to sell his wrestling empire, any deal
would probably have to be structured similar to Walt Disney Co. (DIS)
and Pixar’s relationship, in which the computer-animation studio
operates independently even though it’s owned by Disney, he
said. Disney acquired Pixar in 2006.

Partnership Opportunity

“That type of situation would probably be the most likely
one as far as the McMahons being able to be comfortable” with
selling the company, Kim Opiatowski, a New York-based event-driven analyst at Vertical Group, said in a phone interview.
“It’s a question of a loss of control of the company. It’d be
tough to take it out of the family’s hands unless they felt
there was something so compelling or such a good strategic
partnership opportunity.”

Comcast is a “natural acquirer” for WWE because it
already airs the wrestling shows and Chief Executive Officer
Brian Roberts isn’t afraid to manage more than one type of media
asset, said Richard Tullo, New York-based director of research
at Albert Fried. Comcast owns cable and broadcast TV networks,
the Xfinity cable service, the Universal Pictures movie studio
and theme parks. A representative for Comcast said the $132
billion company doesn’t comment on speculation.

In addition to WWE’s TV shows, any buyer would have to
manage its wrestler-themed products such as video games and toys
as well as its more than 300 annual live events.

Sports and live events are Madison Square Garden’s
specialty, which makes it a logical suitor, Tullo said in a
phone interview.

MSG owns the New York Knicks basketball team and the New
York Rangers hockey team, as well as the Manhattan arena they
play in. The company is looking to sell its Fuse music TV
channel, which people with knowledge of the situation said has
so far drawn bids from both Jennifer Lopez and her former beau
Sean “Diddy” Combs.

“MSG can manage WWE because they know the ropes,” Tullo
said. “MSG owns sports teams, they own arenas, they have the
WWE in their venues. It would just need a couple of chips to
fall into place first, such as selling Fuse.”

Closely held Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner of the
Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Live Nation Entertainment
Inc. (LYV)
, the world’s largest concert promoter, also have the
ability to operate WWE’s assets, Tullo said.

Representatives for MSG, Live Nation and Anschutz declined
to comment on the companies’ interest in acquiring WWE.

Disney, with its expertise in managing and marketing
characters across platforms from the big screen to consumer
products, is another possible suitor, Routh of National Alliance
said. The backing of Disney, a $140 billion entertainment
conglomerate, would increase , he said.

“You can’t look at what WWE is worth today,” Routh said.
“It’s about what it’s worth in the hands of Disney, with all of
their muscle behind it.”

A representative for Burbank, California-based Disney
didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Disney’s cash and equivalents of $4.4 billion is almost
double the size of WWE’s market value, data compiled by
Bloomberg show. Comcast’s cash stockpile is even larger at $5.3
billion, the data show.

“If you were Disney or Comcast looking at the numbers and
what you could do with WWE, you could probably justify paying a
decent price and it’s still petty cash to you,” Routh said.
“The question is, what’s the asking price, if there even is
one. Only Vince McMahon knows.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Tara Lachapelle in New York at
tlachapelle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at
bewilliams@bloomberg.net
Whitney Kisling

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